Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Brunner, John

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(1934-1995) UK writer more closely identified with sf, in which field he was a prolific writer from his first book, Galactic Storm (1951) as Gill Hunt (a Curtis Warren house name). It tends to be overlooked that he wrote a deal of Fantasy – some of which is alternatively classifiable as sf, like Catch a Falling Star (1958 Science Fantasy as "Earth is But a Star"; rev vt The 100th Millenium 1959 US; rev 1968 US), a Technofantasy set in the Far Future where science is indistinguishable from Magic, and Father of Lies (1962 Science Fantasy; rev 1968 dos US), in which a child's Talents are so strong he can recreate his own world of Myth.

JB's best-known fantasy is the apocalyptic The Traveler in Black (coll of linked stories 1971 US; rev exp [1 new story] vt The Compleat Traveler in Black 1987 US), in which the Traveller is the guardian of humanity (see Fisher King) who travels the world across eons of time in a ceaseless battle against entropy, endeavouring to protect humanity against its own ignorance.

The initial Traveller in Black stories appeared first in Science Fantasy, which published most of JB's early Weird Fiction under variations of his own name and the pseudonyms Keith Woodcott and Trevor Staines. These stories covered most of the standard themes of Supernatural Fiction, but always with an original twist. "No Future In It" (1956) blends Alchemy and Time Travel; "Proof Negative" (1956) is a charming tale about Santa Claus; in "The Kingdoms of the World" (1957) creatures of an ancient race wait to reclaim the world (see Malign Sleeper; Wainscots); the protagonist of "All the Devils in Hell" (1960) enters a Pact with the Devil to create a Femme Fatale; "Oeuf du Coq" (1962) is one of the few tales to include a cockatrice. Some of these stories are included in Out of My Mind (coll 1967 US; variant UK edn 1968). JB expanded others to novel length, as with The Gaudy Shadows (1960 Science Fantasy; exp 1970), where drugs create a tangible nightmare world (see Dreams), and "This Rough Magic" (1956 Science Fantasy; exp vt Black Is the Color 1969 US), about a Black-Magic coven.

In many of his weird stories JB used the device of a narrator to give the tale the feel of a Club Story. This is particularly true of the Tommy Caxton series, five stories which span his career – "The Man who Played the Blues" (1956 Science Fantasy), "When Gabriel ..." (1956 Science Fantasy), "Whirligig" (1967 Beyond Infinity), "Djinn Bottle Blues" (1972 Fantastic) and the posthumous "The Drummer and the Skins" (1995 Interzone) – and which verge on the Tall Tale, and the Mr Secrett stories – nine stories, mostly in F&SF (1977-1992) – which are sinister exercises in Perception. Almost all of JB's fantasies challenge Reality, urging us to reconsider the nature of things about us. [MA]

other works: No Future In It (coll 1962); The Devil's Work (1970), a Psychological Thriller; Time-Jump (coll 1973 US); The Best of John Brunner (coll 1988 US); A Case of Painter's Ear (in Tales from the Forbidden Planet ed Roz Kaveney 1987; 1991 chap US); much sf.

further reading: The Happening Worlds of John Brunner (critical anth 1975) ed Joseph W de Bolt; John Brunner, Shockwave Rider: A Working Bibliography (latest edn 1989 chap) by Gordon Benson Jr and Phil Stephensen-Payne; "Behind the Realities: The Fantasies of John Brunner" by Mike Ashley in WT for Spring 1992, a special JB issue; SFE.

John Kilian Houston Brunner


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.